N-school is a new style of school in Japan, my son joined in April 2021 and as friends have started looking at high schools for their kids, I have been fielding a lot of questions.
As N-school is totally different from your bog-standard, teacher-led high school, I wanted to share what we have learned about it so far and to give some insight into how it all works. There is very little information out there in English because it’s a Japanese school but bilingual families like my own might be interested in what it has to offer.
If you want to know about our school journey so far, which hasn’t been the traditional way either, you can read about it in this post, which will take you from 0 to 15. High school in Japan is for 3 years starting at 15 years old.
Full disclosure here, I am by no means an expert on N-school, the following is what we have picked up as we have started this journey. I’ll update this post as I find out more or anything relevant pops up.
Who founded N-school and when?
With three decades of experience working in the education industry, Okuhira has some strong ideas about what is and isn’t working in the current education system. Such as rote learning and memorizing textbooks are not preparing students for university or the workforce. By opening N-School he hoped to challenge the conventional education system and provide instead a system to support students of the digital generation.
High school in Japan is optional and should give the student the chance to try out different things before they decide on a university/career path and so N-school is also set up with that in mind.
What is N-school?
There is actually N-school and S-school, they are the same school essentially. Due to red tape and N-school growing rapidly they were forced to open S-school. They are the same but N-school HQ is based in Okinawa whereas S-school is based in Ibaraki.
I’ll refer to N-school throughout the article but know that S-school is essentially the same thing.
N-school is unlike any kind of regular school, I like to think of it as a hybrid school and will try and explain in a bit more detail how it all works.
There are currently 19 campuses around Japan. The head campus is in Okinawa. They are expanding and new campuses will be opened next year.
But our school campus is not a regular school it’s more like an office building. There is no gym, cafeteria, or classrooms. Instead, imagine an open-plan office with one or two separate rooms within the building. Not only that, not all kids attend the physical building.
There are different ways to attend N-school.
Everyone studies over the net but some students go to the school campus and some don’t, you can choose the track which is right for you.
- Five days a week at the school campus
- Three days a week at the school campus +2 days at home (we do this one)
- One day a week at the school campus +4 days at home
- Five days at home
The tuition fees reflect the track that you choose for the number of times the child will be at the school campus. It is possible to change from one track to another and there is a specific system to do that, you can’t just switch as you please!
There is also an online correspondence course but I’m not 100% sure how that differs.
N-school started out as a High School but they are also adding Junior High courses.
What does the N stand for in N-School?
The big question that everyone wants to know the answer to…
N can be anything you want it to be, it doesn’t stand for anything specifically.
What are the lessons like?
In N-school all the lessons are online, even for students who go into the campus, they attend the lesson online and can choose what to study and when within the parameters of their grade. There are different types of “lessons”…
First, there are reports, they are what you need to get the certificate to graduate high school and they are broken into the usual standard subjects and then into units. You need 75 units to graduate.
They are done completely online through N予備校 (N-yobikou). You have access to a full year of reports for the subjects you opt-in for. They are all online, you have to complete the month’s reports by the deadline, if you do that you can move on and work through the following month.
Try and work through all the monthly reports ASAP, some kids will do the whole year’s worth of reports and bang them out in the first month or so. This gives you time to study other things. As the reports are compulsory to graduate, it’s good to get them done and out of the way as soon as you can.
There are also live lessons but they are aimed more at the kids doing online school (rather than physically going into the campus).
There are also a lot of creative courses available such as illustration, 3D modelling, learning how to use the Adobe suite and cooking available too. They are on the N-yobikou platform and are optional.
Due to the Japanese Education Ministry guidelines, the students must attend five “schooling” days a year, where they take lessons, exams, and counselling sessions. My son hasn’t attended any yet so we don’t know the ins and outs of it. These are held at a limited number of campuses around the country.
In the second grade, students go to Okinawa for their schooling days!
These are designed as 21st-century skill-based learning projects. Topics such as IT, time management, focus on SDGs, communication skills, and all the things that you need to work in the real world.
Each quarter the school collaborates with a company such as Japan Rail, SCRAP Escape games, and Nihon TV. The students have to either create something or solve some kind of problem. Students are split into groups and work as a team on the projects.
An example, working with Japan Rail, the problem was the unused spaces under the railway lines. Students had to come up with a way to use that space.
Students work as a team to create a report, presentation, promotional video, or whatever is needed to quantify their ideas.
Active Learners (AL) is a way to encourage kids to complete their goals and request extra learning. If they go through all 9 steps and get accepted, they are free to choose whatever they want to do in the afternoons. This is one of the reasons why being proactive and working through all the projects quickly is an advantage.
One added perk of being an AL is being allowed to sit on the sofa! (apparently, this is a big deal 😂) and other special privileges.
N-School has the standard English high school class for everyone.
Then they have advanced English for students at higher levels. This is split into:
- EIKEN speaking class
- Higher English
- English discussion.
The students are tested to check their level before being graded into a suitable class.
My son is in the English discussion class which is the highest level. Most of the kids in the class are either “hafu” (mixed race), previously attended an international school or returnees. Each week a different student leads the class and picks two articles, one from the Smithsonian and the other from Mental Floss to discuss/debate.
They also have to read a set text and write an essay. Catcher in the Rye and The Yellow Wallpaper has been done so far, they have Shakespeare’s Sonnets next. If you don’t hand in your essay or you get kicked out of the class for the following quarter (like getting a red card). You also have to take an English proficiency test such as IELTS or TOEIC to stay in the class. They do help and support the kids through all this and provide mock tests to prepare for the exam.
The English class is held on zoom and students are from all over Japan, it is a great chance for my kid to hang out with other kids like him, as a native English speaker.
Are there extracurricular programs at N-school?
Yes, there are a number of digital courses including programming, Japanese anime production, learning how to use the Adobe suite, writing, etc. They also offer internships within companies where they can learn about farming, traditional crafts, and the such like.
What does an average week look like?
My son attends N-school three days a week and spends Tuesday and Thursday at home. On his home days, he can do as he pleases.
Tuesday and Thursday morning he works on his Reports. Kids are encouraged to complete the reports as soon as possible so that they have extra time to delve deeper into their own personal project ideas.
In the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he usually goes to the climbing gym.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he goes to the school campus, leaving the house at 8 am and usually getting home between 5:30 and 6 pm.
The first two lessons of the day are Project-N, and the third lesson is for Reports. After lunch there is English. Monday my son has a higher-level English class and then “programming” which is IT-based learning.
Wednesday and Friday after lunch, those who have opted for Chinese do Chinese class otherwise it’s Reports time.
The last lesson on Friday is for updating the Report sheet and career path lessons.
The campus times vary, for his, the campus opens at 9 am and the homeroom class starts at 9.30 am. The lessons finish at 4.30 pm and the campus closes at 5.30 pm.
Are the lessons held in English or Japanese at N-School?
N-school is a Japanese school and so all lessons are held in Japanese. They do have different language lessons such as English and Chinese. As explained above, they also have a higher English class where students are tested on their ability and then graded. My son is in the higher English class along with all the kids around the country who are either returnees, attended an international school, or are like my son, biracial and bilingual.
The kids who want to study overseas at university level are also encouraged to take tests such as IELTS so that they can enter university. The school advises them on which tests to take etc.
How does N-school compare to Montessori?
One of the interesting things about N-school is that they don’t have age-graded classrooms, which is very much like Montessori. Kids from all three years share one space and work by themselves on their own computers. In a Montessori classroom, kids are of mixed ages and will work by themselves on their own work.
They also have mixed-grade project work, Project-N. There are so many great advantages to this. Students of different ages bring different things to the table.
- Older kids will have more experience but then younger kids will often come with ‘fresh eyes’.
- Younger students are often more receptive to learning from an older student than a teacher.
- It is also a brilliant way for a student to know whether they completely understand something properly because if they don’t, they can’t teach someone else. So teaching and learning go both ways.
- Students who have recently learned something still have it fresh in their minds and are usually only a step or two ahead of the new learner making them more relatable and easier to learn from. The ‘teacher’ still has everything fresh in their mind especially sticking points or concepts that were difficult to grasp which makes them a better teacher as they can relate to the ‘student’
- In Japan, there is a huge problem with Rank regarding age/grade. In companies, people often get promoted because they are a certain age, not for their skill or ability. Bullying is a big problem because of this too, in a mixed grade situation, the playing field is levelled out. This might not seem like a big deal but as this is ingrained in Japanese society, hopefully, schools pro-actively changing the system will help change things down the line.
The lessons are also to some extent self-paced again like Montessori so the kids can work through the program at a speed that fits their pace and academic level.
In Montessori, there is a misconception that kids can do whatever they want. They can’t. They have choices and boundaries set in place and I feel that N-school has a very similar setup. The student has to complete the 75 units but there is the freedom of when to study and where. The students have an element of control over their learning.
These are great life skills because although they have that freedom, they also have deadlines so they need to learn to structure their day wisely.
How do they use VR at N-school?
Yes, the school uses VR for lessons, Seriously, how cool is that? My kid is living the future!
Not everyone uses VR, you have to buy the VR course as an extra course, and the headset is included. Students do all the studying in N-Yobiko, and N-Yobiko is connected with VR software so you can attend the class using VR.
Currently, all maths lessons are set up for VR. For the other subjects, the compulsory videos are not in VR but the supplementary videos are. This might change as the tech and lessons get upgraded in the future.
Some of the VR lessons allow you to pick up and manipulate objects, for example in a history class you can pick up gold stamps and look at them. My son picks and chooses when to use VR, lessons take a bit longer using VR and he says sometimes it’s more distracting being in the VR classroom.
There are also events using VR, some use free VR apps such as VR Chat, and some use paid apps. Joining the VR events is a great way to make new friends.
The student does need to have a Facebook account because the VR headset they use is the OCULUS.
Are there different course types (science, literature, languages)?
No, it’s general subjects. You do the foundation subjects (Reports) which are counted as your units which you need a minimum of 75 to graduate. But then you can take more advanced classes, for example, maths you do up to Math I and Math A as standard but you can choose to do Math II, III and Math B once you have completed the standard maths.
There are a lot of creative courses available once you get the reports out of the way. Graphics, software design, programming, etc. The school is set up in a way to encourage the students to try other things and to advance their skills in areas they are passionate about.
How easy is it to make friends?
Like anywhere, it depends on the person.
The only communication tool used by N-school is SLACK. (SLACK is a project management app). There are all kinds of channels in SLACK. Official school channels for tests and announcements etc. And there are also clubs on SLACK, most of which you can join at any time.
Currently, there are 12 official clubs such as the entrepreneur club, stocks and shares club, and politics – all of which you have to apply for because you get money to use towards the club.
There is also, shogi, e-go, dance, e-sports (N-school is really strong in this and has won the all-Japan high school cup in the past). Jinro-game, research/experiments club, art, music, computers (they do competitive programming), and quiz club.
Then there are doukoukai clubs which are acknowledged by the school but the school doesn’t support the clubs in any way, these are set up and run by the students. They cover all kinds of things, from baseball discussion to nagashi somen (we don’t actually know what they do!). So you can pretty much find friends based on your interests.
What are the teachers like at N-school?
All the teachers are quite young. The headmaster of S-school is a programmer/twitch streamer and if you are in the e-sports club you can play games with him. (My mind boggles when I think of what it would have been like to play any kind of game with my old headmaster!)
The teachers are really friendly and you can chat with them at any time. They are enthusiastic and willing to help with anything.
The teacher’s role is not to teach but rather to guide, helping students to teach themselves, how to research and compile information. They are also there to help the students decide which university is a good choice and what they need to get in. They also run the project-N classes and the teacher-student meetings.
N-School also has teaching assistants who are university students who come into the school part-time. They help students with their studies, for example, if a student needs extra help with maths, a teaching assistant with helping them.
All the lessons are actually recorded and online with a quiz after each video lesson. There is no teacher-led classroom like a traditional school. This was a huge factor in our decision as you will know I don’t believe teacher-led classes are beneficial for anyone, students and teacher alike. But that is a rant for another day.
How are the other students?
A mixed bag, there are more of the oddballs, the weirdos, the kids who don’t fit into the system where you are expected to conform. For kids who struggle to fit in with the regular Japanese school system, N-school is a great choice.
On the entrance day, I was so happy to see such a great mix of kids and parents – I was not the only mom with bright pink hair! Many of the parents looked like the quirky ones, quite possibly the ones that struggled to fit in when they were at school.
But also think it’s a great fit for kids who would like more breathing space and less pressure to be like everyone else, and do everything a certain way without questioning things. And for parents who don’t believe that the conventional education system is working.
And like anywhere, there are the super motivated kids and the not-so-motivated kids!
We have dealt with bullying in the past (you can read about it here) but as far as we can see there is no bullying going on at the school. My son does say that it would be difficult as the school is open plan so it would be hard to sneakily pick on someone. Plus as most of the kids are the ‘weird’ kids* there is no one that is different enough to get bullied.
*Weird used in an affectionate tone, we love weird here!
Do they have to do extra juku to get into university?
We think that depends on the university you want to attend. You might need extra help if you want to attend a specialist university or one that is difficult to get into. It’s hard to give an answer. We are looking at universities in the UK, and the teachers have been really helpful in providing us with what he will need.
They also hold extra meetings over zoom for parents too regarding getting into university.
How self-motivated does one have to be at N-school?
You have to have enough motivation to keep your reports up to date, everything is tracked online and the report has a monthly deadline. If you don’t finish a week before the deadline, the teachers will get on your back about it. You can maybe get away with missing the deadline once but as they are connected to your units they really have to be handed in on time to be able to graduate.
Parents also get notified when reports are not handed in on time, so kids can expect to get earache from all directions!
One thing that we discovered is that each subject report is a different length and the information that the parents get shows the report completion as a percentage. So it might look like the student has only completed 20% of one subject but 80% of another.
Our experience with Lessons and Reports
When he started my son had focused on the long reports first as they had far more videos/lessons to complete. So it looked like he has barely touched some of the other subjects which may be had 4 or 5 video lessons. With only seeing the percentage it’s impossible to see if the student is behind time-wise. My husband started nagging because he thought my son was falling behind but the reality was that he only had 4 lessons left to complete everything.
The way my son had decided to tackle his reports was a sensible one, get the big ones out of the way first! Now he will tell us how far along he is with each report with the regard to the amount of content he has to work through.
The art report is a bit of a faff so don’t leave that one until last!
How long are the hours on the days he goes to the N-school campus?
Homeroom starts at 9:30 am and classes finish at 4:15.
At our campus, you can get into campus at 9 am and the doors close at 5.30 pm. You can hang out after classes have finished if you want to. It’s not open at the weekend.
How many kids are in a typical N-school class?
It is not set up like a regular school. Forget the one teacher, 30 kids type of set-up, it doesn’t work like that.
For our campus there are 7 teachers and the students are split between them. On the days that my son goes into the campus, there are about 200 students, but that will differ from day to day depending on which track the students have opted for. We don’t know how many students are actually enrolled at his campus.
My son has a homeroom teacher assigned to him but as everything is open plan and lessons are online, there is no classroom, no one teacher leading 30 odd kids.
With Project-N, each quarter the students get put into a new group of about 5 students and they are mixed ages.
How are the kids monitored so that the school knows they are attending class and doing the work?
The students have a timecard that they click when they enter and leave the campus. If the student is taking a day off or will be attending late/leaving early, a form needs to be sent via the parent. If no form is submitted and the student isn’t at the school, the parent is notified immediately.
How do you join N-school?
N-school is a Japanese company and so everything is in Japanese, therefore you need a Japanese speaker to be able to enter the school.
I would first recommend attending one of the open days that they hold at school. They share information about the school and answer your questions. There are often current students helping out at the open day so ask them any questions you have too.
I would also recommend reading through the website and school brochures. The school is expanding this year and they are opening several new campuses for the coming school year, which in Japan is in April.
Like I said before there is S-school too, which is basically a carbon copy of N-school.
What kind of entrance exam is there to join N-School?
We are not allowed to disclose exactly what the entrance exam is like.
What we can say is that basically there are two parts. The first is writing a short essay on a topic of the school’s choice. And an interview, there are two interviewers and a group of students who all take the interview at the same time, it’s pretty informal.
It’s not difficult to get accepted but because of the lack of physical space, if you want to attend the campus track it is best to take the first round of tests to secure a space. They are opening a lot of new campuses but also the demand for seats is increasing greatly.
Word is out about a different approach to school!
At N-school do students need to buy any special equipment?
A Macbook is required. The school will give you the recommended model (we used the COVID government allowance to buy ours). You will also need a comfortable headset/earphones as the classes are online but in an open-plan room.
The VR is optional. If you want to do the VR you pay for the course and the headset comes with the course.
Then the usual backpack, notebooks, pens etc.
Students going into campus will need a bento (lunch) too. They are not allowed to leave campus during the day. There are vending machines at the school for drinks/snacks but no cafeteria.
How much does N-school cost?
That depends very much on the track you take and if you add any extras such as the VR course. You will need to check the website or brochures for the latest information.
Is there a school uniform?
Yes and no.
Yes, they do have an official school uniform but it’s optional whether you choose to wear it or not. In Japan, school uniforms are pretty standard for most schools. When we went to the entrance day only a few of the current students were wearing uniforms and a small handful of the new students.
What I did love was that students made their uniforms fit their personalities. Students wear the uniforms the way they wanted to wear them, no strict rules on how are you wear them.
They are also nonjudgemental about the kid’s hairstyle, hair colour or piercings. Pretty much if the kids turn up in reasonable clothing then they are good to go.
As a punk mum who always hated uniforms and always hated being put into a box where I have to conform with everybody else, this makes me very happy. In a country where standing out is frowned upon I was very encouraged to see that kids who felt different and want to express themselves differently are able to do so in a safe environment.
Are they planning to open schools on other continents?
We don’t know. Our prediction is that if they do it overseas it will be South Korea first. We think it’s possible for overseas students to join the Net school but we are not sure how that works and of course, it’ll all be in Japanese. If you are overseas or travel a lot – it suits pro-athletes because of the schedule, then contact the school and see if it fits your needs.
Urawa Reds goalkeeper, Suzuki Zion, and the ice-skater Kihira Rika are both pro-athletes that have graduated from N-school. There is also a pro surfer currently enrolled in the same year as my son.
How did N-school handle Covid?
In Japan, we didn’t have lockdown in the same regard as some other countries but we have had several States of Emergency (SOE). In a state of emergency sometimes schools got closed.
With that in said, in N-school it wasn’t so much of a problem because everything is online anyway.
But they did have to set up some zoom school-type lessons for the Project-N classes. Kids were also given the option to study at home or go to the school campus when that was permissible with the government rulings. If the kids didn’t feel safe or felt more comfortable studying at home using zoom-school then that was fine.
The campus follows the government guidelines to keep students and teachers safe.
All in all, I don’t feel that COVID had much of an impact on school life.
Are we happy that we chose N-school?
At the time of writing we are halfway through the first year of N-school And very happy with the way everything has panned out so far. I intend to update this post periodically as we learn more about the system and share anything relevant.
Where to apply or find out more information about N-school
The school is Japanese and so everything is in Japanese, realistically you will need a Japanese-speaking parent and a child that is at grade level in Japanese to attend.
You can find all their info on their website here.
They also have a YouTube channel here
Do you have more questions?
I can’t promise to know the answers but if you have a question, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram or send me a message here. I will update the post as we progress through our N-school journey.
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